The topic of being offended has cropped back up, with comedians who favor rape jokes and ableist memes. The latest iteration, in response to being offensive, is often a cry out against sensitivity and censorship, that offended parties want a dictatorship with thought police. Making this relevant to our interests here, Colin Moriarty over at IGN adds in that what he describes as political correctness stifling out creativity and the exploration of controversial material.
Let’s get to the meat of this and save the nuance for dessert. As the existence of this post implies, there are many flaws about Colin’s approach to this topic. I will first meet him at his “Let the free market decide!” slant, which is both problematic and hypocritical. For one, the public saying they don’t like certain content isn’t censorship or any threat against the US’s (because Ben Franklin doesn’t speak about the constitution of the whole world, you see) concept of free speech. Our laws protect us from the government telling us what we can or cannot do, but businesses bend to consumers because of, wait for it, the free market! And, as well, businesses don’t bend to consumer pressure also because of said free market. Game developers can ignore as many angry people as they want and continue making problematic material, but some don’t because of whatever business model or philosophies they ascribe to. So let’s stop throwing around faux-intellectualism, no one’s country-given rights are at risk here. What’s at risk is things people like Colin enjoy might go away to the pressure of another force, and they don’t like that. Which leads me to how crappy it is to use the “free market” stance in the first place. It equates ethics and individuals’ value with money in a system that favors the rich. Gaming isn’t and hasn’t been a cheap hobby to upkeep, so to say those with the money should decide the kind of content of games is plain lazy when that is mostly white heterosexual men. The problem here is that the old guard is backed up against the wall as a diverse market demands games to change, and you get pieces like Colin’s resorting to arguments of privilege.
Moving on, Colin also makes the mistake of creating a straw man of the activism surrounding problematic material in games. We’ll use his example of the Tomb Raider mishap: Talking about rape isn’t what needs to go away. The possibility of games depicting rape isn’t bad either. What is the problem is developers handling complicated issues without understanding how it affects the audience. What Ron Rosenberg said fired off many alarms, that this is most likely another fudged attempt at using rape as a theme in a game (I understand that some who demoed it feel better about the game, but the argument centers around material the public has access to). Context matters here, because our society trivializes rape and there isn’t a game in my memory that properly utilized rape. And with gaming culture under large scrutiny for homogeny in development teams and sexism, the comments Ron made were legitimately criticized. It was all the language that settled back into using rape as a plot device and not treating it with the gravity it deserves. The problem here is that Ron and everyone else related to the PR of this Tomb Raider didn’t mean to be offensive. I would say the vast majority of the cases that people criticize games and publications for being offensive, the accused didn’t mean to be. THAT’S THE PROBLEM.
Without getting into theory, it is becoming more obvious that society has engrained problematic attitudes and behaviors into our everyday mentality, so we accidentally do and say sexist (among other) things. And none of these people want to be sexist, nor want to offend gender minorities. This is what needs to be fixed, and why people continue to mobilize whenever these topics arise! There is a difference between being unintentionally offensive and being intentionally so. When you accidentally offend someone you care about, you apologize and amend your behavior. But when you intentionally offend someone, you don’t care if they are offended and are doing it for a particular reason. This mobilization of activism isn’t targeting people who want to be offensive, rather, those saying things aren’t offensive because they themselves aren’t offended, so no one should care. Sound familiar? If we continued to ignore things we didn’t like, nothing would change. There are many things and people I want to offend. I don’t care if I offend those who are anti-marriage equality, shame kinky sex, or think the Men’s Rights Movement is a legitimate cause; I intentionally craft my messages to offend such people. However, if I found out that things I said offended people with disabilities, in poverty, of another nationality, or any other non-ideological descriptor based solely on these said qualities, I would apologize and change because I didn’t mean to and wouldn’t want to again unintentionally. That said, most MRAs can go fuck off.
Also, what is cute about the “save creativity!” angle is how much people like Colin are protecting incredibly old, entrenched attitudes. There’s a push against how video games deal with sex because it is incredibly UNcreative. Scantily clad women with no other purpose than to be so? What is creative about that? There is nothing creative of our western culture appropriating and exotifying other cultures, we’ve been doing that way before free speech was written into law. Or the glorification of a war we had no business initiating as another excuse to shoot brown people? Something tells me that’s not the “fresh” Colin is looking for. The people that Colin’s article represent don’t want anything to change, unless you consider figuring out how to get a girl as close to naked as possible without financial retribution creative.
This didn’t even get into the workings of the sexism, racism, and other problematic aspects of video games. And it doesn’t have to, though reading up on that conversation would probably have saved Colin from writing that piece. The reality is that it is becoming more and more unprofessional to be sexist and racist, even unintentionally so, and the public is making publications and developers aware of this social change. And as a company that focuses on games as things “guys enjoy,” IGN should take some notes.
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